Thursday, August 28, 2008

I'm either really predictable or you guys are really good. You decide.

I like to think that when they were handing out brains, I thought they said awesome family, and asked for a big one. Okay, I know that's not how the usual joke goes and that if Dad were left in charge of it, he would have come up with the perfect substitute for brains and had it still transition perfectly into what I"m going to write about. Sue me. I'm bad at puns.
Back to this awesome family, I really must have done something right up there, because I just sit here smiling, thinking about how great you are. This past week, I've gotten not one, but two care packages from my dear older sisters, Emily and Elise. Add that to the weekly letters I get from either mom or one from Elise or Juli (who I've decided have set up some sort of schedule so I get a letter from one of them every couple of weeks or so), and also the things I've ordered online, and I'm getting a reputation for most mail received. And man, that makes me happy (and a little smug). It makes my morning go by more quickly (that's when we get it), it keeps my afternoon light just thinking about it, and I go to bed counting my blessings like Bing tells us.

Just to give you all a taste of some of the things I've got, here are some pix. For the first one, to represent Juli's, I had to pull a picture from the internet of my favorite item in her care package, b/c I ate the rest of it. So I have no evidence except my satisfied face to show you. (Sorry I didn't get a pic in before devouring the care package, Juli).

These were included in my healthy food care package, and I am only slightly ashamed to say that I was able to down all the bags (I think there were three) in one sitting, defeating the whole 100 calorie purpose. But I couldn't help myself. They were delicious. I loved everything else, but these little suckers stood out in my mind.

Next care package I received was from mom. It included some old magazines (which I love, b/c everything is old to me here, so I don't even notice. I've even shared the National Geographics with a fellow NG lover). She also included some movies in a Netflix-esque arrangement, a cute little lambie, some pictures of you all (which are perfect for my room and office) and other little thoughtful gestures.

Then I got a care package from Emily. She had thoughtfully included some books I've been wanting to read (most of them her favorites, so now I get someone to talk to about the books), some fun little things like that unicorn picture I'm working on coloring, some flavored lip-gloss (and I know she couldn't have guessed it, but my favorite thing right now are the healthy versions of the cookies the lip-gloss is flavored like...I lick my lips all the time), jewelry, and some really cute fingerless gloves from Etsy (?I think?).

Here's a pic of my awkward looking hand holding the series of Arrested Development that Joe is graciously letting me borrow (thanks again!). I can't wait to revisit the crazy Bluth family. I've decided George Michael is going to be my favorite for this viewing. And I love the gloves. They are so punk, yet so cute and comfortable. I am ready to rock them at work!!!

And today, I got a care package from Elise, who I swear must be reading my mind, b/c she included mini hand lotions, sanitizers, m&m's (peanut and peanut butter) and more books and movies for me to enjoy. Plus, she included drink mixes to add to my bottled water (the only thing I drink over here) and a set of Monet note-cards so that you all may continue to enjoy my rambling letters in a pretty package.

All of these packages truly reinforce how much you guys know me. I mean Juli, without any provocation from me (that I know of...did we talk while I was asleep?) packed me tons of healthy snacks and fun little presents within the first month of being here. And then Mom sends me movies that are just what I wanted to watch. And though she knew I knew about the movies, she still included other things she knows' I will enjoy (the lamb was a perfect touch. It reminds me of your music studio and Alfred). Next is Emily who added the perfect small gestures that just made me smile. I can't wait to show off my owl bling, and dive into those books. And I lasted 2 hours before I had to start coloring that silly unicorn picture. Finally, Elise, who I SWEAR must be reading my mind. My hands get so dry over here and I find myself applying lotion all of the time. The thing is, I've been using the rest of this scentless lotion my predecessor left behind. And scentless smells like play-dough. Yuck. But I don't have a lot of options over here. So getting those mini lotions was perfect. And I love the sanitizers, which will be well used b/c with all those dust storms, I'm constantly washing my hands. And it's just everything else. She knows how much I love crosswords, so she included NY Times crosswords for me. Elise remembered that Monet is my favorite artist, and gets me cards with his paintings on the front.

I could go on and on about all of you for the things you've sent me. But that might get dull. And this entry isn't meant to make anyone feel guilty for not sending me something (I've already laid that guilt trip down, and look, it got me three packages). I just am so delighted that all of you get me. You really put thought into what I would like, what I need, and what would make me smile. I mean, I don't think I'm that predictable, so it must mean that you guys really take the time to know me. Man, I got lucky. Each of those packages are very different from the other, yet they all manage to fit me perfectly.

I love you all so much, and I can't thank you enough for your support, whether it be in your prayers, your comments, or wrapped up in a nicely, overtaped (thanks post office), package.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dust Storm Watch/Warning

Due to the success of posting some pictures, I thought I would continue that trend this week with the latest. I didn't take these pix, but I would have if I had time to run back to my CHU (compact housing unit) in time.

First off is an image of my work trailer and an average weather day at Speicher. Hot, pretty clear, windy (though you can't tell in the picture), with helicopters coming and going all day long.

Now, the other day, we had a duststorm approaching. Normally, about twice a week, we will have a duststorm hang around all day long. People are recommended to wear masks when walking outside, you feel dirty all day, and visibility is like that of a foggy day. To help you understand, imagine a day with constant, but light rainfall. Definitely noticable, but you get used to it and it doesn't effect you too much. Now, the duststorm in these pictures is what a tornado would be like. You can see it coming, it's very powerful, but doesn't last longer than 20 minutes. Plus, they are not common at all. I was very excited to get to view one of these.
Isn't that crazy looking? Now, for weather, this is moving very fast, but in our minds, not that fast. People saw this in the distance, and we had about 5-10 minutes to stand there and gawk before we would get caught in it.

There I am, acting cheesy for the camara, and clearly pointing out the obvious.

Now, at this point, I go back inside b/c I don't want to be caught in the middle of it. Those who have been caught tell me it gets much hotter, windier, and visibility is zero. In fact, Dave's been in one that was much larger, much blacker, and he said no one could even see their hands for the first few minutes of the storm. This one wasn't nearly as bad.

I love this picture because it's like a before and after paint job. By the way, the person posing is the head of USACE in the north. Her name is Colonel Burcham.

This last one is right before it really started to hit us. It only took a few minutes to cover the sky and make it seem like we were in a dust-globe.

Cool, eh? So, this is the tornado equivalant of a duststorm in Iraq. I hope you can get a pretty good sense of what it's like. Just another day in the crazy life of a desert dweller.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

An attempt at some pictures...

Hello all. I apologize for my extended absence. I won't go into details now, but let's just say numerous times the MWR trailer has failed me. We aren't speaking right now, but we can be in the same room. Progress.

I am going to attempt to post some pictures of my surroundings. We will see how it goes.

Alright, this here is a picture of the bunker I am to run into if an air-raid or something to that effect occurs. Hasn't happened yet, and I'm not gonna lie, I will be a happy camper if I never see the inside of that sucker. These sandbag surrounded bunkers are all over the USACE and other compounds. In fact, in the unfortunate event that I may need this, I doubt I will be joined by anyone in here b/c there are so many to choose from. And being alone frightens me. I mean, Florentine (S-Tina to Emily), the administrative assistant who I talk to a lot once was in her bunker during one of many air-raids in the early days of the war, fell asleep, and no one thought to tell her when it was all done. She woke up a couple of hours later, walked into work and was like, "Why didn't anyone tell me I could go back?" Apparently, they are supposed go bunker to bunker to do a head count. I still laugh thinking about her napping during an air-raid, decked out in her gear, which leads me to...

This is my official gear. Much better than most as it is lighter and prettier. The other's have these brick filled camo-versions. I'll try to get a picture of that later so you can compare. I keep this in my work trailer, where we are required to keep it. I've only worn it once, on my flight from Baghdad to Speicher, and it was not fun. I didn't wear the helmet b/c I'll be honest with you; I'm not sure if I can work it right. I really need to try it out, but the only time I have was in front of expert military folks and I already looked like a fish out of water...why encourage that image?

Alright, so this is the Town Square so to speak. First off, notice those two lovely patches of grass that they justify owning a self-propelling mower for. Second, notice the cute little lights. They really try to make us feel like we are in a cul-de-sac or something. Lastly, you will notice that structure there in the middle. Not only does it have ceiling fans in it (why??), but it has speakers hooked up and lighting; once a week, Aloha Bob (he's from Hawaii if you don't get it) set's up his awesome movie screen, his projector and shows a movie for anyone who wants to see it. I watched "No Country For Old Men" there. Unfortunately, the other movie choices are often lacking (he's apparently a big Jackie Chan fan...and not the good Jackie Chan movies), so I don't usually partake. But it's nice to know about. On the other side are a bunch of picnic tables, automatic seating for our monthly Hail and Farewells. And when we bid adieu to our commander, this place was packed with chairs and coolers for bottled water. Even then, I had to stand for most of it, b/c chairs are for important people. Not lowly contractors. I'm filing a discrimination lawsuit as we speak.

Lastly, we have the famous picture I couldn't upload but had you all pitted in a fierce competition to guess. Well, I guess it was more mild than fierce. Sad for me. I like to see biting involved in all competitive pursuits. Anyways, these signs are posted ALL OVER the laundry room. The funny thing is, while I don't think any of us would send out fliers of the information we deal with, neither do we really handle that sensitive of material. Sure, maybe the E&C chief does, as well as our commander. But the majority of us deal with plain ole' contracts and projects. Oh, and proof that aliens exist and live in Iceland. But you all knew that, right? Right? ***uh-oh***

I think I've been successful here, which renews my desire to get some good pictures. Next time I head to the post office, I'll attempt a pic of Saddam's stadiums. And I want to get a good one of our many dust storms (it turns almost orange). And a Black Hawk helicopter would be nice. So stay tuned...

Friday, August 8, 2008

Dog Days and all that.

So it's the end of the first week in August. It actually went by pretty fast, which I never mind. I love things that move by quickly when I have anticipation simmering slowly. However, my panic mode for Grad School has also been moving along quickly as well. I plan to take the GRE on October 7th. Believe me, the dread and anxiety I feel over this test is only matched by the panic I feel for the actual application process and the desperate hunt for recommendations that aren't there. I have begun studying my GRE book and am already lost. I haven't even hit the math section yet. I find my mind a complete blank during the studying process and while thinking about the likelihood of getting in.

The thing is, I know it's not the end of the world if I don't get into grad school. Worse things have happened. I will do what I always do, survive. What stresses me out are those with an absolute certainty that I should get in. I hate that. Because if I don't get accepted, then I feel like I've let down more than myself. And the fact is, I'm not as competitive as people are fooling themselves into believing. I'm pretty average. Add that to the complete lack of academic recommendations I have in my court and odds aren't great. I wish I could get a job advising people what they need to do from my mistakes. I mean, yes, you hear certain bits of wisdom on what will make you really competitive for college and grad school, but I really feel they leave a lot out. For instance, the relationships you have to build with your faculty. I never realized how important this was until I was a year graduated and it was too late to go back and cultivate a mentor type bond.

So I've now feel enormous anxiety over this GRE that I don't understand, and doubt I ever will. When did it become so easy to forget everything you've ever learned? I can rock at the movie game, but give me a word analogy and I'm screwed. Because of all of this stress I've heaped on myself, work becomes a blissful relief. Never though I would say that.

Therefore, I fear/hope these next two months fly by, and then it will all be prayers and wishing after that.

Why, oh why did I not major in business?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Give it up for the downhill slope!

Alright, I've officially been here longer than it will be till October. I promise to stop with this countdown, I can't promise that. It's just that in my mind, reaching August 1st was such a milestone. It signifies a lot of other stuff as well. For instance, I need to kick my GRE studying into high gear, as well as officially pick the schools I plan to apply to. Also, it means that near the end of the month, I need to start hammering out my schedule for the 2+ weeks in the States, which involves an eye doctor appointment, the GRE, paying off some loans, stuff like this. You would think I would dread all of that, but as it means I will be around your smiling faces, I have no negative feelings towards any of it. So August promises to be super productive (cross your fingers) and just closer to October as every day goes by. BTW's, I'm so obsessed with this visit, I don't know how you missionaries out there did it, going 18 months to a year without seeing family and friends, and only 2 phone calls a year. I have even MORE respect for all of you.

Today was a good day. I can't really explain why, I just walked with a lighter step. Maybe it was because the gym didn't kick my butt as hard as it normally does. Maybe it was because I caught 10 minutes of the first Harry Potter movie and loved seeing Daniel Radcliffe so young. (Sidenote, can you believe I hadn't had any interest in reading the books until after seeing the first movie? I mean, talk about clueless. That fateful night viewing the first film with Juli and others I can't remember changed my life). My good mood could stem from the fact that I am slowly but surely grasping my complicated job. Yes, 80% of it is just data entry and downloads, but that last 20% requires an amazing memory, analysis skills, and a firm hand, which has been hard to learn. So having some small successes really makes my day. I think a large part of this mood though comes from all the love and support I get from you guys and from my friends. I mean, you all have really stepped it up and given me so much more than I could hope for. For instance (personal shout-out time):
Mom and Dad: I love the phone calls we have every week. Whether we are talking finances, mom's easy job(jealous), Trissy, the great sports year, or the current political climate (war with Iran, Yikes!), it's a great conversation. Thanks for taking time out of your Friday nights to make my Saturday's something to look forward to.
Juli: Once again, the care package was, and still is, fantastic. I also love your comments on my blog, b/c I know that internet access for you is similar to mine...very limited. I know you are thinking about me often and I can feel it through your loving words.
Em/Joe/Noah: The updates on your family, through all of your blogs. I was such a huge part of your lives for a year, and it became addictive. It's been really hard to let go of being with you all. Eating dinner at your house, sitting together amazed at what a wonderful kid you two have, going to movies (pre-Noah), hanging in the CWE, our mutual love of Jack in the Box, I miss it all. Thank you again for letting me be a part of your family, and thanks for keeping me in the loop so that my return will (hopefully) be seamless.
Elise: For your entertaining life updates and sharing my life with mutual friends. I love that you've updated fellow acquaintances at Cracker Barrel. You keep that bridge going with people from our past that I always seem to burn (inadvertantly usually). And I'm grateful that you treasure relationships more than I, because lets face it, I'm horrible at staying in touch. And talking to you on the phone was a delightful treat. Good luck with Tonks!!!
Steven/Tamara: You two have been especially awesome at letting me know how you are doing (through your blogs) and taking an interest in mine. I love the emails I get from you two, the gchats that randomly happen with Steven, and the promise of a delicious meal out with you two in October.
Sarah: With both of us being in such different places, communication is harder for us. But knowing that you are also going through such a life-changing experience really builds a comraderie. Oh the stories we will tell each other that the others will only be confused by, b/c their summers have not been the culture shock that ours have been.
Kirsti: your emails. I hope you don't mind writing them, because I have found them to be so entertaining. I remember Juli always saying to me as I grew from a 13 year old to the woman that I am now, "I love the person you are becoming. It's so amazing to watch." Okay, those aren't exact words, but I remember being equally confused and delighted at that statement. Now I understand where she is coming from. Reading your emails has really opened my eyes (further) to the fantastic person you are becoming. I've always adored you, but now it's really cool to know you as an (almost) adult.

Okay, that's the only sappy email you all are getting this month. Seriously though, writing this has only opened my eyes further at how amazingly lucky I am to have all of you. I can get through any year, anywhere, as long as you folks are backing me up.